Call to Arms entry 11: Friends Like These

Justin Keverne of cleverly-if-distressingly-titled blog Groping the Elephant presents "Friends Like These," a Call to Arms entry which heavily abstracts human relationships on the path through life.

Friends Like These represents the player as a blob, constantly traveling onwards through a void filled with various other blobs. Your progress is signified by three metrics, two bars which indicated Hope\Optimism and Guilt\Self Loathing and the speed at which you are traveling through the world. The aim of the game is to reach the natural end of your existence (A point that is not explicitly know, as we never known when our time is up), without your Guilt reaching its limit or your Hope running out; if that happens, the screen fades to black with the a message that “You succumb to your Guilt,” or “You are lost to despair.”

Since you are always moving forward through your life, your only control comes in the ability to move across your life stream to bring yourself closer to, or further from, the other blobs in the world. In terms of appearance all blobs look similar but unique. Once you get within a certain distance of another blob they begin to have an affect on your own blob; the distance at which this effect is felt and its strength is different for each blob.

If you spend too long without coming into contact with other blobs your Hope will begin to lower.

Some blobs are friends: the closer you get to them the faster you both begin to travel, and they will also tend to stick with you if you move away (up to a certain distance) allowing you to bring in more friends and collectively rush to the end together. When a large group of blobs is together like this your own Hope begins to increase.

Some blobs are not friends. These blobs will slow you down but they will not be so likely to stick close to you if you move away.

The third type of blobs are toxic, they follow an erratic path but if you can stay close to them your speed increases dramatically, everything else seems to rush past and you race towards the end together. However these blobs also dramatically increase your Guilt, the effect growing exponentially the longer you stay with them.

The effect of other blobs on you is not the same as their effects on each other. Though two blobs might both be your friend they may not be friends with each other; some may even be toxic to another but not you. Bringing such blobs into a close group results in other blobs slowing the group down and could potentially lead to the group itself fracturing if you are not careful about how close you allow those opposing blobs to get. If you bring in a blob to a group that then causes the group to split apart your Guilt will begin to increase until you either manage to bring the group back together or leave it behind (Life is harsh).

How do you want to live your life? Do you stick to your friends through the good times and the bad, or do you leave them behind when the going gets tough? Do you latch onto that one person who burns with an inner fire? They’ll show you the world but might kill you in the process.

-J. Ross Keverne


Sparky said...

This is an interesting idea. I'm curious how you would represent data about your companions' metrics and interactions. Obviously speed is collective, and I guess the Hope and Guilt metrics could be represented using colors, but keeping such a system legible without becoming monochromatic might be a challenge (although difficulty reading friends' emotions may be realistic). Giving the player enough information to figure out which blobs were having adverse effects on each other without producing a bunch of clutter might also be tough.

I definitely like the choices you're presenting here, even though I'm not sure I agree with them. The implication that friendship hastens death makes for a cool gameplay dilemma but perhaps not such a great life message.

Steve gaynor said...

I'm not sure how far this gets the player towards the goal of actually experiencing guilt, hope, or the challenges of friendship. If anything it's a very abstract diagram of the author's view on the trajectory of human relationships. But would the play have any meaning at all without the labels? If I labeled the pieces in Tetris "people" and called clearing a line "friendship," and if allowing blocks to stack towards the top of the field filled up a "guilt" meter, would it convey the experience of making friends, or of feeling guilty?

I guess that, like Rob Humble's "The Marriage," the presentation and mechanics here are too abstract to convey emotion without labels, and with labels they feel arbitrary. Is there a way that a revision of this could make me feel guilty, or hopeful, or remind me of the challenges I've had in moving through life with a diverse group of friends?

Anonymous said...

Since the natural completion of your life is effectively the overall goal of the game, I never considered that moving faster was actually hastening your demise. It was simply a clear was of representing the benefit of being within a group of friends.

I think my selections of Hope and Guilt were slightly misleading as really they aren't the emotions I was trying to represent I guess Confidence and Self-Loathing are potentially closer but still not exact.

"The Marriage" was certainly an influence, yes but I'd argue that this type of game would work without any labels whatsoever.

Hope could be represented by the size of the blob and Guilt by transparency or colour. If the former fell too low or the latter rose too high the overall colour scheme and music of the game could change to be more sombre and despairing, your blob would in turn become pale and shrivelled.

However if the player reached the natural end of their life the colours would become brighter the music more uplifting. Your blob and those around you would be bright, and full.

Playing through and witnessing that going it alone, or tying yourself to the whims of an erratic individual, lead to a pale shrunken existence, ending in despair and darkness. But that grouping together and sticking with others led to a bright full life ending in light and colour. Would you need to be explicit? Isn't the message of togetherness and friendship over selfishness clear enough without being so blunt?